Friday, September 30, 2011


Dipping back into the dim and dusty archives of the second trimester here for a post I never quite pulled the trigger on at the time, that seems only to have grown more convincing to me in the weeks since.

Heading over the river and through the woods this past weekend, we happened to catch a full episode of Wisconsin Public Radio's own TTBOOK (To the Best of Our Knowledge, for those of you outside the cheddar belt). The theme of the day: "Does the Soul Still Matter?" We thought this was a particularly germane topic, as:

1. We'd just come from church, Annie is a pastor, and (I believe) we have souls, and
2. Host Jim Fleming's restrained, dispassionate baritone always conjures the spectre of a world-weary man who's born witness to the manifold horrors of a lifetime in radio journalism and come out the other side with soul slightly tattered.

They hooked us with soundbites from The Simpson's, but we weren't terribly moved by anything else on offer -- mostly unsurprising or calculatedly radical opinions from philosophers, writers, scientists, theologians. Oxford theologian Keith Ward's expansive, generous application of the soul was intriguing, at least. I don't recall all the details, but Ward's premise was that the soul is essentially homologous to consciousness, which I think falls pretty closely in line with popular opinion. (Okay, body/soul duality is way outside my field of study, so treading lightly here.) We owe a lot of our ideas about the soul as pristine, transcendent spirit and the body as clumsy, earthy conveyance to the ancient Greeks. It's a line of thinking that plays a hand in the modern concept of an incorporeal, ethereal heaven (despite some fairly direct Jewish and Christian scripture and tradition on the resurrection of the body.)

The dichotomy is easy to believe -- all our greatest works as a species seem to be those of intellect, of spirit, of consciousness. Symphonies, theories, ideals. Sure, sometimes fabricated by our bodies as a necessity of the physical world, but still beautiful and perfect in the realm of ideas. And the body's uninspired output is mostly, to be blunt, crap.

But I've been rethinking that.

Because this little guy that's coming, who is becoming more and more tangibly apparent, is an endeavor orchestrated and constructed by the body, to plans influenced only the slimmest wisp by our conscious will. And I think that if you believe that is a miracle, then you have to consider that the soul is embodied in a way that exceeds simple passengerhood.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am in no condition to speak coherently myself on this topic but a scholar of religious texts who is pretty sharp has repeatedly insisted to me that the notion that many Christians have of the "soul" is based more on the Greeks and Plato than the scripture itself. Interesting, for sure. One of his points, and I'm probably not doing it nearly enough justice, was that if your soul was what we think it often is, why is the resurrection of the body necessary?

Again, who knows, but it seems in cohorts with what that gentleman was saying.